Libya and the Responsibility to Protect: Between opportunistic humanitarianism and value-free pragmatism
Institute for Security Studies
6 March 2012
(…) In a poignant testament to its tragic origins and normative power, R2P was the discourse of choice in debating how best to respond to the Libya crisis in 2011.(…)
(…) The jury is still out on whether NATO military action in Libya will consolidate or soften the R2P norm. There were inconsistencies in the muted response to protests and uprisings in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, where vital Western geopolitical and oil interests are directly engaged, and with the lack of equally forceful military action in Syria and Yemen. Western failures to defend the dignity and rights of Palestinians under Israeli occupation have been especially damaging to their claims to promote human rights and oppose humanitarian atrocities universally instead of selectively.
Despite the doubts, the alternative of standing idly on the sidelines yet again would have added to the shamefully long list of rejecting the collective responsibility to protect. Gaddafi would have prevailed and embarked on a methodical killing spree of rebel leaders, cities and regions alley by alley, house by house, room by room. Had the world shirked its responsibility, Libya could have been the graveyard of R2P and the UN might as well have sounded the last post for it.
(…) Russia and China led the chorus of dismay at the UN appearing to take sides in the internal conflicts in Libya and Côte d’Ivoire. They may be less willing in future to permit sweeping endorsements for tough action, either by a coalition (Libya) or by UN peacekeepers (Côte d’Ivoire).
Value-free pragmatism is no more an answer to the challenge of reconciling realism and idealism than opportunistic humanitarianism. (…) Among others, one risk for the AU is that the new regime will highlight its Arab over its African heritage and identity. The reason this matters is that, following the Libya precedent, regional organisations may well acquire a critical ‘gatekeeping role’ in the global authorisation of R2P-type operations. As long as the rising new powers remain more concerned with consolidating their national power aspirations than developing the norms and institutions of global governance, they will remain incomplete powers, limited by their own narrow ambitions, with their material grasp being longer than their normative reach. (…)
The outcome is a triumph first and foremost for the citizen soldiers who refused to let fear of Gaddafi’s thugs determine their destiny any longer. It is a triumph secondly for R2P. It is possible for the international community, working through the authenticated, UN-centred structures and procedures of organised multilateralism, to deploy international force to neutralise the military might of a thug and intervene between him and his victims. NATO military muscle deployed on behalf of UN political will helped to level the killing field between citizens and a tyrant.
But the ruins of Libya’s political infrastructure and parlous state of its coffers mean that the third component of R2P – the international responsibility to rebuild and reconstruct – will also be called on. The willingness, nature and duration of outside help will help to shape the judgement of history on whether Western motivations were primarily self interested geopolitical and commercial, or the disinterested desire to protect civilians from a murderous rampage. As with the war itself, however, the lead role will have to be assumed by Libyans themselves, while the international community can assist without assuming ownership of the process or responsibility for the outcome. (…)
Read the full article and see Dr. Thakur’s 27 February article in the Japan Times, Find common ground with critics to work out norm for ‘responsibility to protect’ operations.